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Student Freedom Initiative ISA review

An alternative to high-cost students loans for STEM majors at qualifying HBCUs.

Bottom line: The Student Freedom Initiative offers a low-cost alternative to student loans for STEM majors at qualifying historically black colleges or universities (HBCUs). But funding isn’t available until fall 2021. Until then, you’ll want to keep an eye out for more information and ways to sign up to participate in its income service agreement.

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$20,000 per academic year

Max. ISA Amount


Product NameStudent Freedom Initiative
Max. ISA Amount$20,000 per academic year
Max. ISA Term20 years
RequirementsEnrolled full-time in a participating school, enrolled in an approved STEM degree program, junior or senior status, US citizen or have valid Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)

Review by

Kellye Guinan is a seasoned financial writer with over 500 articles under her belt spanning all things loans from auto to personal to business and everything in between. With four years in the field and five years of research experience, she's able to make complex personal finance decisions easier for anyone to tackle. When she's not up to her knees learning about the latest trends in lending, she spends her time improving her own financial literacy and expertise — and maintaining a Duolingo streak of over 1,300 days.

Expert review

The Student Freedom Initiative is best if you’re a rising junior or senior already enrolled in an HBCU or minority servicing institution (MSI). It’s designed to help Black STEM students avoid private student loans — which means you’ll still need to exhaust other sources of funding and federal student loans before you qualify.

And it offers a number of protections for both low- and high-income earning participants. No matter how much you earn, you’ll pay a maximum of 10% of your income back into the program. Best of all, it’s not going into the pockets of a lender. Instead, your payments will go back into helping future students fund their educations.

But if you need funding before the program opens in fall 2021, you may need to compare private student loans.

First, am I eligible?

To apply for funding through the Student Freedom Initiative, you will need to meet a few criteria:

  • Enrolled full-time in a participating school
  • Enrolled in an approved STEM degree program
  • Junior or senior status
  • US citizen or have valid Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)

You will need to demonstrate that you are maintaining satisfactory academic progress (as determined by your school) to continue receiving funding through the Student Freedom Initiative ISA.

What schools are eligible?

While the Student Freedom Initiative plans on expanding its list of eligible schools and degree programs in the future, it currently only offers funding to students at the following HBCUs:

  • Claflin University
  • Clark Atlanta University
  • Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University
  • Hamptom University
  • Morehouse College
  • Prairie View A&M University
  • Tougaloo College
  • Tuskegee University
  • Xavier University of Louisiana

For a full list of degree programs, check the Student Freedom Initiative website.

How does the Student Freedom Initiative Income Share Agreement work?

The Income Share Agreement (ISA) — or "Student Freedom Agreement" — offered by the Student Freedom Initiative offers an alternative source of funding for Black students. In your junior or senior year of college, you can apply for up to $20,000 per academic year to fill any gaps in funding that aren't covered by scholarships, grants, institutional aid and federal student loans. Like other forms of financial aid, the amount of funding you receive each year can't exceed your school's cost of attendance.

In exchange, you'll start making payments based off your income after you graduate or leave college. Unlike student loans, the amount you repay is flexible. And because the Student Freedom Initiative was built to uplift Black students, every payment is recycled back into the program to help future generations of students fund their educations.

How much does the Student Freedom Initiative ISA cost?

Students are expected to pay 2.5% of their income for every $10,000 in funding they receive. This means that students who used the full $40,000 in funding for their junior and senior years would need to make payments equal to 10% of their income.

But it's not meant to drain you. The Student Freedom Initiative won't require you to make any payments if you make less than the minimum amount — currently set at $30,000 per year. And while the total payment term is set at a maximum of 20 years, you aren't required to repay the full amount of your funding.

Is there a limit to how much I’ll pay?

The Student Freedom Initiative states that there is a cap on how much participants are required to repay, but it isn't clear about what that payment cap is. This information should be available to you when you sign up for the ISA.


  • Access to student support, including tutoring and mentors
  • Works with InternX to provide students with paid internships
  • No payments required for participants earning under $30,000


  • Not available until fall 2021
  • Limited to select HBCUs and STEM majors
  • Funding only available after other sources are exhausted

Compare private student loan providers

To cover your freshman and sophomore years, compare lenders on our list of private student loans.

Name Product APR Min. Credit Score Loan amount Loan Term
EDvestinU Private Student Loans
4.092% to 8.609% with autopay
$1,000 – $200,000
7 to 20 years
Straightforward student loans for undergraduate and graduate students.
CommonBond Private Student Loans
3.74% to 10.74%
$5,000 – $500,000
5 to 15 years
Finance your college education through this lender with a strong social mission and terms that fit your budget.
Edvisors Private Student Loan Marketplace
Varies by lender
Varies by lender
Varies by lender
Varies by lender
Quickly compare private lenders for your school and apply for the right student loan.
Credible Labs Inc. (Student Loan Platform)
Starting at 0.99% with autopay
Good to excellent credit
Starting at $1,000
5 to 20 years
Get prequalified rates from private lenders offering student loans with no origination or prepayment fees.

Compare up to 4 providers

What to expect when signing up

Applications for the Student Freedom Initiative won't be available until June 2021. A form to indicate your interest in the program should also be available in the first few months of 2021, although there is no official date set.

More about the Student Freedom Initiative

The Student Freedom Initiative is a nonprofit founded by Robert F. Smith, who matched the initial $50 million pledge from the Fund II Foundation. Its goal is to help students enrolled in STEM programs at HBCUs avoid high-cost student loan debt. And it's built around paying it forward. All donations and payments go toward funding future generations of Black students to help them and their families avoid debt.

Frequently asked questions

Our answers to more questions you might have about the Student Freedom Initiative ISA.

What if I don't need to go to school full time to complete my degree?

The Student Freedom Initiative offers exceptions to students who don't need to enroll full-time in the final year of their degree programs.

Can I defer my payments?

Yes. You can defer up to 12 monthly payments — without demonstrating hardship.

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